It is as Gann titled a book: Fate is the Hunter. You should not worry about the friend to beat, or the government minimum standard to meet; this is a long game of solitaire. You must not stop if you have beaten the other student or have passed a test. The real exam will come when you are alone.
Former FAA Administrator (and 14,000 hour pilot) Randy Babbitt said that scoring, “999 out of 1000 isn’t good enough — people expect more.” He is saying that you can’t rest or relax by getting flying mostly right. Aviation is a different kind of test. Most people live in a world that allows slips and lapses and errors and mistakes. The bumbling along of incomplete attention is good enough. There is time to fix stuff later. It'll be alright. But aviation is different. The energy levels are higher, the threats more immediate, there are few pause buttons or second chances. The wing is like a shark in the water, it must move forward at all times. The fuel is finite. The ground brutally unforgiving. Flying is what safety analysts call “tightly coupled,” in that actions can quickly propagate to interconnected systems and forever define our remaining options. This is a different kind of test. Complex systems produce unusual and sometimes unpredictable events. These are the “unknown unknowns” we couldn’t plan for. As Scott Sagan wrote in the book The Limits of Safety, “things that have never happened before happen all the time.”
Engine two explodes.
One of these black swan events happened on 4 November 2010, to an A380 with 440 passengers flying uneventfully over Batam Island, Indonesia, as Qantas Flight 32 from London Heathrow Airport to Sydney Airport. The number two engine exploded. That’s something we practice in the simulator. But shrapnel from the uncontained engine failure punctured part of the wing and damaged the fuel system, causing leaks and a fuel tank fire, disabled a hydraulic system and the anti-lock brakes, and caused engines one and four to go into a degraded mode. It also damaged landing flaps and some control of engine one. Wow. The complexity of the intertwined failures, some caused by electrical wires randomly shorting together, could not be anticipated by instructors. SOP and written non-normal procedures alone could not solve this problem. It required deep systems knowledge and airmanship. After two hours of work in the air and two hours of further work on the ground (an engine would not shut down, making an evacuation dangerous), all 440 passengers walked off the plane. With no cuts, bruises, or a single run in a ladies stocking. The captain, Richard Champion de Crespigny, said later that:
If you want to fly a high-tech aircraft that is run by computers, there is a responsibility to understand the underlying systems if you want to use it. Because when those systems fail, and they do fail, it’s up to the pilot now to recover an aircraft that is is very complex. (Auxier, 2015.)
He had constantly gone beyond good enough in his flying life, and has a deep understanding of the work involved in becoming great. In another interview, he said:
To be a pilot you must be confident and courageous, but you earn that by going out of your comfort zone, in simulator exercises and by continually learning, both formally and informally. If you’re not doing that your confidence can be a mask for complacency. You have to challenge yourself. (Flightsafety Australia, 2019.)
Engine two stops.
For Peter Burkill, after 12,700 mostly uneventful hours aloft, the test came out of the blue at the very end of an otherwise completely routine 4,400 nautical mile flight. He was the captain of G-YMMM, a Boeing 777-200ER flying for British Airways from Beijing, China, to London, England. The weather for the approach to the home field was good, the crew was experienced, everybody knew the work-horse triple-seven fleet had never had an accident in over a decade of service, Peter would soon be home. At 720 feet above the ground, with the landing runway clearly in sight, fully configured for landing, with no warning, the right engine autothrottle slowly advanced while the right engine power actually rolled back. Seven seconds later, the left engine power also rolled back. Just like that, in the sudden space of seven seconds, the ultra-reliable airliner certified to cross the widest oceans, was losing power in both engines (Air Accidents Investigation Branch, 2010). The giant jet crashed just short of the runway, but everybody on board was safe. You never know when the test will be called. This “unknown unknown” was caused by cold temperatures aloft producing ice in the fuel that restricted its flow to the face of the fuel oil heat exchanger. And amazingly it seems it happened in both exchangers at the same time. At no time in the 10 and a half hour flight had the low fuel temperature warning come on. Remember, “things that have never happened before happen all the time.”
Captain Burkill and Senior First Officer John Coward, who was at the flight controls, are heroes for their handling of the emergency. They were given the President’s Award by the Royal Aeronautical Society for gliding in the crippled 150 ton airplane with no fatalities. But for other pilots, a thirty year airline career can be ruined in five minutes. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter how many minutes ahead of schedule you were, or how you scored on a written test ten years ago, or how many other competitions you’ve won.
R. A. 'Bob' Hoover was described by many who might know as the best pilot in the world. Speaking to graduating classes of the USAF Test Pilot School, he often said variations on this:
Think outside the box. You’ve learned everything you can learn in school. But remember, when lightning strikes, you never know where it’s going to hit. Think outside of the box. (Furst, 2014).
In a 2002 interview he was asked what sets him apart from other pilots. “Sheer luck,” was the quick humble reply. He knew there was luck after decades living on the flight test and airshow edge. But soon the intervew turned more serious. He said:
I’ve thought about things. The ‘what ifs.’ I think ahead about what if this goes wrong, what if that goes wrong. I’ve already thought it out, so I know what to do. And I could tell you stories by the hour of situations I've walked away from, yet didn’t have to think in the moment about what to do, because I just did what I’d already thought of. (Bangs, 2018)
Chinese Taoist philosopher Laozi (老子, also translated as Lao Tzu and several other versions of Leo ‘Old’ and Zi ‘Master’) is credited with the saying, “The way of the sage is to act but not to compete.” Sam showed me that we should blend with the energy and flow of the universe to make the perfect flight, not butt heads and compete in false contests of ego.
There are few flying competitions — especially outside the military, aerobatic and intercollegiate crowds — yet pilots create tremendous internal competitive pressures. To solo in ten hours, to complete the flight without turning back, to land on the runway without going around. We try to turn flying into a huge competition. Unfortunately many make the completion standards way too low. People pass the flight test, then relax and get complacent. Many of us end up competing with the elements, or the operating manual numbers, or a friend flying the same day — instead of working with them. None of these are the real test.
The only real test will come alone. Maybe in the dark. Certainly unexpectedly. You might fail the test before you even know you are sitting an exam. In controlled flight into terrain accidents (known as CFIT) pilots fly a perfectly good airplane into the ground, and don’t even know what hit them. You miss something, you make a mistake, you don’t crosscheck, and suddenly you crash into the ground. When you are flying at night or IFR you must know where you are, and where the high terrain is, at all times. Without a doubt. Eighty percent is not close to a passing grade in a real flying test, and you will not get to take thetest again if you fail. The Chair of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman, knows this from constant immersion in accident investigations. She told a 2009 safety conference that, “you never know on which flight your career will be judged.”
Test pilot and 'last man to walk on the moon' Gene Cernan spoke at the same safety conference. He addressed professionalism this way:
Professionalism is a mindset, a state of mind, a commitment to being the best. Anything less is unacceptable…. Professionalism breeds a culture of excellence. [This is] an absolute requirement of an inherently risky business. There’s no place for complacency.
He stated that professonalism “is an outgrowth of commitment, knowledge, discipline, courage, passion, judgement and skill.”
Larry Salganek is a MiG-15 air show pilot, jet warbird instructor and FAA examiner. In thinking about the crashes he was familiar with in high-performance jets he said, “most of the accidents happened because of ego. Someone was usually showing off or doing something they shouldn’t have been doing.” His cure is straightforward — “I don’t fool around.”
I was talking with an NTSB investigator about human nature a few years ago, when he mentioned that the most dangerous thing he knew of to a new pilot was a video camera. The pilot feels the almost irresistible need to show-off, to look not just competent, but great. Consider the true story of an F-14 navy fighter going vertical (straight up, but then straight down) while on the ground the parents (proud, then horified) filmed their son the new Navy aviator needlessly crash and die. Or the C-150 pilot buzzing the girlfriend’s house then stalling and crashing. Showing off in front of airshow crowds beyond all reasonable limits has wasted a perfectly good Airbus A-320 airliner and a B-52 bomber, along with all the lives within.
So yes, a video camera can kill you. A group of Italian skiers were enjoying a nice day in the mountains until a United States Marine Corps A-6 Intruder jet flew too low down the valley snapping the lift cables and killing 20 innocent people — while all the time the marines in the cockpit were videotaping themselves looking cool. Sam had heard through old friends in the corps that the aircraft commander was a great stick and rudder pilot, maybe the best in the squadron, but it takes more than that to be a complete pilot. You have to resist the pilot ego. Make your way to be the quiet controlled pilot who does not show off by exceeding safe limits. When others (your boss, your passengers, air traffic control) or yourself (your schedule, your pride, your ego) push you to go faster — you go slower. Sam told me that I never wanted to win the race to be first to the crashsite. Be calm. Whenever you feel rushed, you must slow down.
Sports researchers know this. The standard literature includes many references to being is a relaxed state while executing peak performance (Jackson, 1992, Ravizza, 1977, Williams & Krane, 1993). And we know this truth unconsciously. The panicked pilot is frantic, rushing out of control. The commanding captain of the ship has the deep slow voice. He or she has time for everything of importance. The experienced have mastered the routine tasks, giving them the time to look at the big picture. During one flight with Sam when I was rushing to do everything he reached over and smacked me on the shoulder. “Relax; or you will die all tensed up. You can do more by going slower.”
U.S. airline captains, in addition to simulator checks and recurrent ground training, have to have a 'line check' at least once a year. A check airman sits in the cockpit and observes a normal flight. Very few people fail line checks, but the possibility is there, and everyone wants to look good to the examiners. It’s a follow-every-rule-exactly-by-the-book kind of an event. A couple of years ago, at the end of a four-day flight sequence, I had a line check flying from Chicago O'Hare to Madison, Wisconsin. (I think smart check airmen choose short flights that get them home in time for dinner.)
Thanks to a sharp first officer and good weather the line check went well. As a courtesy I offered the Puerto Rican check airman the left seat for the flight back to O'Hare, but he preferred to sleep in the passenger cabin. We taxied out on time only to hear from ATC that O'Hare had a ground hold due to traffic, and that no estimated takeoff time was available. Arghh. We pulled to a stop on the only convenient taxiway, and shut down an engine to save gas. We talked to the flight attendant. We talked to the passengers. We talked to dispatch. We waited.
Parked with a tailwind, ATR aircraft have an occasional bad habit of giving an amber caution alert 'NAC OVHT,' meaning that the engine nacelle is starting to overheat. You change the airflow over the nacelle (by say bringing the 13-foot propeller out of feather or changing the flap setting) and the caution normally goes out in 20 seconds or so. We knew we might get this alert sitting with a tailwind. No big deal. We sat together in the warm Wisconsin sun, the three normal occupants of an airline flight deck — captain, first officer, and boredom.
The calm of the cockpit was broken by an aural alert. I put yesterday’s newspaper down to deal with the NAC OVHT caution. But if it’s a nacelle overheat why is the red engine fire handle lit up? Strange, that sounds like the fire bell. Engine fire? Engine fire! I slowly struggled through the syrup of clichéd confusion.
Simulator training and mental review reasserted themselves. The first officer was fully aware. We called out the 'Engine Fire - Ground' checklist from memory like a couple of drill sergeants. It started weird because the checklist expects you to be taxing, but we were stopped with one engine shut down and one prop feathered. However we worked the problem. Soon I was firing the explosive squibs that release halon gas into the engine to starve a fire of oxygen. My crew was evacuating the passengers. I was talking on the radio to brave gentlemen in bright yellow trucks wearing silver spacesuits. I fired the second shot of halon gas. The (as it turned out very small) fire finally went out.
Entering the quiet empty cabin, a captain alone on a crippled ship, I saw the rows of seats were not quite empty. The check airman was still sitting in the back row. Grinning. “You passed the line check. But you never know when the real checkride gonna happen.”
He was right of course. And this was not my real test, but it was a wake up call. Sam told me there is a Malay proverb that says just because the river is quiet does not mean the crocodiles have left. None of us know when the real test will come. I doubt it will happen when an examiner, or a wow-she’s-hot-I-need-to-impress-this-future-girlfriend, is in the cockpit watching me. It will come alone. On a dark stormy night. Or when I am fat, dumb and happy heading right into a mountainside. It will happen while I blissfully eat my chicken salad and think about next months big vacation with my lovely wife. It will happen while I worry about something else and take care of 20 other things, none of which would have killed me. I don’t know when the real test will come. I just know I must be ready. Crocodiles have lots of teeth.
Commander Randy 'Duke' Cunningham was one of the most highly decorated Navy pilots in the Vietnam War. The first U.S. fighter ace of the war, he received the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, fifteen Air Medals and a Purple Heart. After Vietnam he was a Top Gun instructor. Interestingly, before he ever was a fighter pilot Duke was a school teacher and athletic coach. This ace with a master’s degree in education knew that real battles were won early: “the winner [in aerial combat] may have been determined by the amount of time, energy, thought and training an individual has previously accomplished in an effort to increase his ability as a fighter pilot.”
Randy 'Duke' Cunningham.
Rather than just trusting the word of a pilot, however legendary, in the early 1990’s the USAF Chief of Staff directed air force research laboratories to investigate the human attributes that enable a pilot to develop and maintain what was seen as a tactical measure of airmanship, what we call Situational Awareness (SA). Armstrong Laboratory at Brooks Air Force Base published an exhaustive study of 171 active-duty F-15 A/C pilots (at the time the premier air superiority fighter) based in several front line squadrons, with pilot ages ranging from 24 to 45 years (Carrerra, Perry & Ree, 1996). They compared results of psychological and physical test batteries with supervisor and peer ratings of SA. This was a huge undertaking, carefully conducted with a rigorous scientific research methodology.
The study found no predictive power when looking at psychomotor or personality measures of pilots. Statistical analysis showed the fighter pilots with higher general cognitive ability based on items like working memory and spatial reasoning did tend to have slightly better rankings of SA. But what accounted for an amazing 92.5 of the variability in situational awareness rankings was something pretty simple. It was flying experience measured in number of F-15 hours. The study concluded the best way for F-15 pilots to acquire more of the seemingly magical SA was to have them spend more time flying in the F-15!
These results were not a surprise. Different researchers working for the USAF found a few years earlier that pilot age and flying experience in fighters were the best predictors of air combat maneuvering (ACM) performance (Waag & Raspotnik, 1993). I’m too old and fat to fly an F-15, but I can use the results to become a better pilot in whatever aircraft I want to fly well. I do this by flying it more! Sure it sounds obvious. But now we know nothing else the USAF research laboratory can think of has been proven to be better. If I really want to get better, I must fly more.
Sebastian Kawa holds the most World Champion titles in gliding history, and when interviewed for a podcast in 2019 was ranked by the FAI gliding commission as number one competation pilot in world. Asked what advice he had, he was clear:
The result itself is not that important. The important thing is how you do it. And if you learn from it. (Kawa, 2019).
The real warriors are sometimes so ahead of the rest of us, that their real competition is with world records or ghosts or even perfection. Winning the game others are playing is not enough for these masters. They have moved on and up.
On 22 July, 2000, at the legendary birthplace of golf in St. Andrews, Scotland, Tiger Woods finished the final hole on what is simply known as the Old Course. He was in complete command of his game; one day left and six shots ahead of the next closest player. A margin with which he had never lost a tournament. The big Rolex clock hanging from the clubhouse said 6:57pm. Almost every other golfer in the world would head to the hotel. Not Tiger. No, Tiger wanted to go hit practice shots. But he didn’t head to the driving range, as he well knew the Royal and Ancient driving range closes at seven. How did Tiger know this seemingly trivial information? He had wanted to go practice after playing at the same time last year, and was told then that it closed at seven.
Sports pschologist and golf coach Gio Valiante emphases mastery golf over counting strokes and trying to just beat another player. He saw flow up close on a drizzly Sunday when he walked a round with Davis Love III. He says it was the first time he saw flow up close on the PGA tour. Davis said of the round:
I was trying as hard as I could not to look at the scoreboard…. I really stayed away from thinking about score … trying to stay focused on what I was doing, playing each shot and picking targets and not worrying about the score. (Valiante, 2013).
The score he wasn’t looking at ended up at 64, six less than the next closest player, and more than good enough to win the 2003 Players Championship. Sam told me “the only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday.”
Another great golfer was Ben Hogan. He would sometimes hit 1,000 balls in practice periods that would last over five hours. Jimmy Demaret remembers Hogan scoring a record 64 in the opening round of the Rochester Open. Demaret and most of the other competitors retired to the clubhouse to discuss the day’s events over drinks. Hogan, who had hit an amazing ten birdies that day, went to the practice tee and hit wood shots. Asked what he was thinking, Ben said, “if a man can shoot ten birdies, there’s no reason he can’t shoot eighteen” (Demaret, 1954).
Golf is not as simple as practice makes perfect. The fact of the matter is that practice makes permanent. If you’re practicing the wrong procedures or mindsets, then you'd be better off doing nothing. The way to progress is to practice the right things. Learn the right procedures and techniques, know what is good and what to aim for, and then go practice. Proper practice like this is a trait of all great warriors. Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan both obliterated many long-standing golf records. Winning is very important to them both, but I get the impression that they practice to learn about the game, themselves and to beat that distant hole in the ground. They do not practice just to get another big shiny prize that says they were a little ahead of the rest. They practice to learn and to overlearn, to stretch and reach out and go further.
When learning a skill we pass through three separate stages. The cognitive stage is when we are still fumbling with the instructions, figuring out just how to do the task. The associative stage is when the skill gets much better with increasing practice. Eventually we reach the autonomous stage where the skill becomes automatic, we feel it is fully learned, and improvements slow down. Scientists that have studied the acquisition of skills have measured performance through these stages and talk about the well known Power Law of Practice. The shape of a graph of the speed of the skill (or some other measure of quality) against amount of practice almost always fits a mathematical curve known as a power curve (math fans can plot it on a log scale and the resultant line is straight). The graph below is actual reaction times in milliseconds for a simple task practiced 250 times (reproduced from Newell & Rosenbloom, 1981). It clearly shows how performance quickly improves, but then plateaus out after extensive practice.
This power law has been observed in tasks as simple as rolling a cigar, to as complex as fault diagnosis in electronic circuits. It has been observed in motor learning tasks, perceptual motor tasks, and many other skilled undertakings. (All examples cited in Speelman & Maybery, 1998.) When in high school, a young Larry Bird would arrive at the gym at six in the morning, every morning. Among other deliberative practice exercises, he would do 500 free throws a day. I’m guessing it was hard to see the improvement day by day. But a few years later Larry was winning basketball championships and it was clear the practice had made a difference.
One of the first scientific studies to recognize this in expert performance was a landmark paper on Olympic swimmers by sociology professor Dan Chambliss. It was titled The Mundanity of Excellence and concluded that:
Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time. (Chambliss, 1989.)
There is no ‘secret’ to achieving excellence, rather the primary psychological barrier is to get over the ordinary banal slog of constant training. But I love flying. And so I can keep practicing even though it feels like I’m not getting better.
What the real experts know is that while it can feel like a plateau, and while it takes more and more practice to get smaller and smaller improvements, the tail-end of the power law of practice is where the very good get very very good. Getting used to playing at this end of the curve is one of the differences between amateurs and professionals. You must take enjoyment in the smallest improvements in one little thing. The road to excellence starts with long strides anyone can see, but ends with hundreds of tiny little steps only the connoisseur can comprehend.
One such connoisseur is 20,000 hour pilot Mike Mangold. He is a former F-4 fighter pilot, an outstanding graduate of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, three-time Red Bull Air Race championship winner, U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, airline pilot and Reno Air Race competitor in an L-29 jet. His attitude is:
I don’t need winning to be complete. The journey may be more fun than the end.
Another airline pilot turned multiple-time Red Bull Air Race championship winner and five-time United States National Aerobatic Champion is the amazing Kirby Chambliss. His philosphy is:
More than to win over other competitors, I want to win the competition with myself.
Daniel Sazhin, a US National 1-26 glider champion and a PhD student in brain and cognitive science, is certainly interested in winning international competations. But his real goals are more personal:
It’s not about beating someone. It’s about doing better than I did before.
Jim Wetherbee, only person to command five Space Shuttle missions, former fighter and test pilot, wrote that:
In hazardous endeavors, every operator should be on a life-long journey to strive for operating excellence. Each operator should possess a deep personal motivation to learn more than the training provides.
Bob Hoover, legendary pilot who excelled in combat, fight testing, and airshow demonstrations in piston, turboprop, jet and rocket aircraft, reflecting on a lifetime of excellence, said:
I always flew for myself. I didn’t fly for the crowds. I just wanted to make each flight better than the last one; more precise.
A swimmer you may have not read about is Jason Wening. He was born with multiple birth defects, and doctors amputated his deformed feet in childhood leaving him with two stumps just below the knee. One of his hands has only three fingers. Jason is a great swimmer, he is holder of six world records in disabled swimming. Asked why he pushes himself every day, Jason says, “for the simple pleasure of forcing the body and mind I was given to the absolute edge of my capabilities. I’m fascinated by trying to go ever faster. And when I do, I get for just a moment a vision of the limitless potential of the human race.”
You may have read about the mountain climber who was the first blind person to scale Mt. Everest. Eric Weihenmayer has also climbed Mt. McKinley, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Aconcagua. He also enjoys acrobatic skydiving, skiing and running marathons. In a 2001 Sports Illustrated interview he said, “I want to summit, and I like the pioneering aspect of being first. For me, though, the process is more fun, the moments of bliss that connect you with who you are. The summit is just a symbol that on that day you bought an uncontrollable situation under control.” Eric shows me that you don’t have to have eyesight to have vision.
Perfect was a tough word to use around Sam. His little band of student pilots were secretly trying for perfection, dreaming sometimes of that wonderful flight when — just one time, just for one simple flight — we did everything perfect. What a reward that would be, what a validation. Sam laughed at us when he caught us talking like that. “Don’t expect to be a great pilot, just enjoy the piloting. Do it because you love it. You are entitled to enjoy all the work, but not the dream rewards.”
He would say “make every flight your masterpiece.” But this was so your high standards would then reveal the painful knowledge of where you fall short, knowledge you'd use to fly better tomorrow. Other times he would be mad or sad, saying we’d be better off trying fly to the end of a rainbow seeking pots of gold than to chase perfection. Aim for excellence he'd say. If you’re good you can enjoy excellence every flight. But sometimes, “you alight on a moment of aerial perfection. It is worth all the effort. A moment is the most you can ever expect from perfection.” The chase with excellence is what makes high-performance flying so rewarding. It’s no comparison with some simpler game that allows a 'perfect' score. Aim for excellence. Enjoy the mechanics of the outer journey and the art of the inner game.
Returning to Chinese Taoist philosophers, Zhuangzi also knew something about checkrides long before the airplane was invented: “When archers shoot for enjoyment, they have all their skill; when they shoot for a brass buckle, they get nervous; when they shoot for a prize of gold, they begin to see two targets.” Don’t make flying a competition with anything other than fate or a contest with anybody but yourself. Rather than worry about beating someone else, work on being unbeatable.
Before I lost contact with Sam, he told me that after a couple of years of getting used to not competing against others, of not showing off because I had passed some exam that had a minimum grade of 80%, it was time to move up to the next level of non competition: to stop competing with yourself. Eventually you need to do what it is you are doing completely without comparisons or ranks. Just do it. Disregard yourself at the same time you are disregarding the competition. This purposeless detachment can bring the act closer to perfection. No regard to the competition, no regard to the ego, no regard to the self, no regard to life or death. Fear and desire drop away. There is just regard for the flight itself.
I do not compete for trophies.
We’re just focusing on skiing and improving. We're not talking about statistics or wins or even medals.
To play in the manner I demanded of myself, I needed to forget about stats and cosmetics and free my mind of clutter. I didn’t give a damn about trophies and things like that. When I won a plaque, I would usually give it away. Trophies are given by man and I didn’t need any man to justify what I did.
You have to be driven, you have to want to do well, every single time.
I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; the hardest victory is over self.
For me, winning isn’t something that happens suddenly on the field when the whistle blows and the crowds roar. Winning is something that builds physically and mentally every day that you train and every night that you dream.
The most important contest: between the pilot and the art of flying itself.
Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is more important than the outcome.
We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds.
All I wanted to do was to keep learning new stuff. It wasn’t as if I got to the top of the competitive ladder and was like, “That’s it, I’ve done it. I’ve won.” That was almost incidental to getting better.
Don’t judge yourself against others. Judge yourself against prior versions of yourself and the effort you are exerting in the present moment. This is about as healthy a form of competition as there is.
Your opponent, in the end, is never really the player on the other side of the net, or the swimmer in the next lane, or the team on the other side of the field, or even the bar you must high-jump. Your opponent is yourself, your negative internal voices, your level of determination.
It goes without saying that as soon as one cherishes the thought of winning the contest or displaying one’s skill in technique, swordsmanship is doomed.
When I go out on the ice, I just think about my skating. I forget it is a competition.
My skating is a very emotional thing that comes from the heart, never doing it for the medal.
Contests are an important part of big-wave surfing. But the greatest joy for me comes from leaving the first set of footprints on an isolated beach, paddling out into unknown waters.
Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth.
If you’re an aviation professional, you’ve got to do the right thing even when no one else is looking; especially when no one else is looking.
Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.
I do the very best I know how, the very best I can.
You shouldn’t care what others think of you. You should only compare yourself with yourself.
The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self improvement, about being better than you were the day before.
Always do more than is required of you.
George S. Patton
One is forced again and again to re-learn the fact that standards set by precedent are based on something less than average performance, and, for that reason, one should not submit to them.
Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration. For genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly.
You can love it and you can love it all, but you can always see things that could be improved.
Every game is an opportunity to measure yourself against your own potential.
Success isn’t what comes out, but what you put in. Doing things completely or not at all. Caring about what you do…. Don’t lie to yourself and look for shortcuts. Success isn’t a result. Success is a way of living you choose for yourself.
If you always put limits on what you do, physical or otherwise, it'll spread over the rest of your life. It'll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, and you must not stay there; you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.
I don’t require my engineers to have diplomas. When I was going to school before the war, the principal told me I had failed because even though I was Number 1 in the class, I hadn’t taken the final. I told him, “I don’t give a damn for the diploma. What I want is the knowledge.”
Winners take time to relish their work, knowing that scaling the mountain is what makes the view from the top so exhilarating.
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked — and behold, duty was joy.
What I got from tennis was a search for excellence, improvement, to be as good as I could be as a tennis player. I love to compete and I want to win, but mostly I want to run and have fun and see how good I can be.
There is nothing like training and preparation. You have to train your mind as much as your body.
It was a challenge. I was having the greatest time, making mistakes, crashing. I didn’t love racing to beat the other guys. I loved it because it allowed me to do that exploring.
Sometimes I try to beat other people’s achievements but on many occasions I find it’s better to beat my own achievements. That can give me more satisfaction. I don’t feel happy if I am comfortable. It makes me go further and want to keep pushing.
I wasn’t worried about a perfect game going into the ninth. It was like a dream. I never thought about it the whole game. If I’d thought about it I wouldn’t have thrown a perfect game.
Jim 'Catfish' Hunter
Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.
It’s about working when nobody’s watching.
One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.
People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.
Don’t confuse getting paid to fly with being a professional pilot. Professionalism has absolutely nothing to do with the size of a paycheck or the size of your airplane.
Shipwrecks will not wait; the sea is a pressing creditor. An hour’s delay may be irreparable.
The profession of airline captaincy is not simply the ability to fly and command a large aeroplane with skill, precision and verve. It also involves self imposed discipline as a way of life, an ongoing resolve — year in, year out — to operate at all times and in all circumstances within defined parameters of safety and aircraft performance.
The journey is better than the inn.
Miguel de Cervantes
The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
We don’t pursue safety, we pursue excellence. In everything we do. We achieve safety incidental to that pursuit.
Mike Van Wyk
When I succeeded … the emotional high was the single biggest thrill of my life. And the reason, of course, is not that I have whipped up on all those other people, but that I have conquered the toughest opponent of all: myself.
It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation which give happiness.
Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
Even if you’re winning, you’re always trying to find something better.
Confront every instant of your actions with the maximum commitment, maximum concentration and attention trying to do the very best that is currently within your capabilities.
Leo and Ricky Brigliadori
Perform every act in life as though it were your last.
The best way to find contentment is to give something your all.
I’ve always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me. I never quit trying; I never felt that I didn’t have a chance to win.
If you allow your skills and procedures to decline, invariably there will be a situation where the deficiency will become critical. You will fail when you least expect it and not understand why.
Richard de Crespigny
If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
It’s wanting to be the best you can be. The last thing you want to do is finish playing or doing anything and wish you would have worked harder.
Granted that I must die, how shall I live?
If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well’.
Martin Luther King, Jr
If we pushed … to want more than the easy joy of 'pretty good,' we could achieve the occasional ecstasy of 'great.'
I love training. I love taking on new challenges. Like short strips and crosswinds and tail-wheel airplanes. Confined spaces in helicopters. I like to challenge myself.
I’m challenged to do a little bit better than yesterday, each time I fly.
R. A. 'Bob' Hoover
Winning was fun, but so was the struggle to improve. That was one of the lessons you learned from the game. Basketball was a clear example of virtue rewarded.
I just did it because I wanted to … getting the best out of myself for all the effort I’d put in.
When you see success as a goal, you’ll never be successful because it becomes like an addiction. You can never have enough. Never.
I like the competition better than the victory, the fighting better than the winning.
Of course it is speed that wins races. But a champion will always win his races as slowly as he can. Driving perfection, not recklessness, wins races constantly.
Speed was to me way down on my list of priorities. It certainly came after steadiness, rig safety, hull safety, endurance, and ease of handling. Give me those and I will cross an ocean at one knot quite happily
He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her…. Some of the younger fishermen … spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contest or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine, and as something that gave and withheld great favours.
If we explore success from a Martial point of view, we see that it needs to be understood in relationship to Shinken Gata — real life combat. It is not something that can be measured by degrees of rank; there are no trophies or awards that can adequately demonstrate proficiency in success.
There is no such thing as luck; only adequate and inadequate preparation to cope with the statistical universe.
Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand men a thousand times, is he who would conquer just one — himself.
I never knew on which three and a half minutes my entire career might be judged. So I had to be ready and prepared in every way with well-learned fundamental skills, with in-depth knowledge, and the kind of judgment that comes only from long experience.
Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger III
It doesn't matter if you're flying a PA-28 or an MD82, or a seaplane, ski-plane or sailplane. In the flying business, we play for keeps.
If you fly enough, you're likely to need your peak skills unexpectedly. The only way to be prepared is flying to exacting standards, working to improve every time we fly, as if our success depended on it. One day it likely will.
When we are the pilot-in-command of an aircraft, being merely ‘good’ is not good enough.
Being a pilot isn't all seat-of-the-pants flying and glory. It's self-discipline, practice, study, analysis and preparation. It's precision. If you can't keep the gauges where you want them with everything free and easy, how can you keep them there when everything goes wrong?
I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. I don’t do things halfhearted. Because I know if I do, then I can expert halfhearted results. That’s why I approached practices the same way I approached games. you can’t turn it on and off like a faucet. I couldn’t dog it during practice and then, when I needed that extra push late in the game, expect it to be there.
The sea knows awareness, she knows patience, she knows staunchness, she knows foresight, yet she knows nothing of man’s longing for riches or fame or even of his efforts to overcome or to thwart her.
I try not to seek rewards. Inga oho. What goes around comes around — this is how I cultivate myself. We don’t expect students to understand the technical aspect only, because winning or losing is not a priority … Of course there are targets to shoot, to aim for, but hitting the target is not the final goal. In kyudo we say, Shoot at your heart — shoot at your conscious thoughts. Whether it is recognized properly by other people or not, you yourself must recognize whether you exerted the utmost effort toward the target.
Simply wanting it badly enough is not enough. Deliberate practice requires a mind-set of never, ever, being satisfied with your current ability. It requires a constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one’s capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again and again.
I have not flown a flight in my whole career where I didn’t at least try to learn something. You have to in this industry. There’s too much on the line.
There were many, many games that gave me as much pleasure as any of the ten national championship games we won, simply because we prepared fully and played near our highest level of ability. The so-called importance of a particular game didn’t necessarily add to the satisfaction I felt in preparing for the contest. It was the journey I prized about all else.
The art of the sword consists of never being concerned with victory or defeat, with strength or weakness, of not moving one step forward, nor one step backward, or the enemy not seeing me and my not seeing the enemy. Penetrating to that which is fundamental before the separation of heaven and earth where even yin and yang cannot reach, one instantly attains proficiency in the art.
Work itself is the reward. If I choose challenging work it will pay me back with interest. At least I’ll be interested even if nobody else is. And this attempt for excellence is what sustains the most well-lived and satisfying, successful lives.
Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself — expanding and learning as you go — you’re choosing a numb existance. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.
No two flights are exactly the same. And what you did on your last flight doesn’t mean anything for the next one. There are always ways to improve and more to learn. We pursue perfection, but no one ever quite attains it.
Standing on tiptoe, one is unsteady.
Taking long steps, one quickly tires.
Showing off, one shows unenlightenment.
Displaying self-righteousness, one reveals vanity.
Praising the self, one earns no respect.
Exaggerating achievements, once cannot long endure
Followers of the Way, consider these.
Tao Te Ching